Something’s Happening Here

In the first summer of Trump, 2017, there’s something happening and it feels bigger than the Comey hearings, even Russia-gate. Who knew that a British election with an inconclusive photo finish could re-channel the anger that drives the global mood?  The unheralded Jeremy Corbyn at the left end of the Labor Party is the mouse that roared, and turned the ‘age of anger’ in a different direction.

Corbyn takes a moment to stop and smell the roses in the UK, 2017

Corbyn didn’t play the bellowing populist, but he spoke the part.  How about a government “for the many, not the few,” Corbyn asked.  And millions of new UK voters said, “Yes!” In the face of terrorist outrages in Manchester, then London, just before the voting, Corbyn said: “we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working.”  It is now Corbyn’s moment to be the standard of unconventional talk that resonates far and wide.  

Naomi Klein protesting police arrests at the G20 summit in Toronto, 2010

Our show begins with Naomi Klein.  Among book-writers on the left, from Michelle Alexander to Bill McKibben to Michael Moore, the line on Naomi Klein is that nobody faster is better, and nobody better is faster. No Is Not Enough is her quick handbook for the Trump era.  Her line since No Logo has been that corporate and consumer culture are both hazardous for people and the planet. And Donald Trump? He’s to be seen not as cause of the problem but as evidence of it:  

“I am not interested in looking at Trump as just like an aberrant personality and psychoanalyzing of him. He is a symptom. I see him as dystopian fiction come to life, you know, and you read dystopian fiction–whether it’s 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale or whether you go see a film like The Hunger Games or Elysium–and inevitably we see a story of a bubble of ultra-rich big winners and hordes of locked out losers. What this entire genre is doing and has always done is take the trends and the culture and follows them to their logical conclusion. They hold up a mirror and say: Do you like what you see? I mean, this is not supposed to be a system that’s telling us to go to this dangerous future. It’s telling us to get off that road. That’s the idea. It’s supposed to be holding up a mirror and telling society to swerve. So, you know, I want to look at the roads that lead to Trump much more than I want to look at Trump himself.”

David Graeber at Occupy Wall Street, 2011

David Graeber, a Yale-trained cultural anthropologist, emerged as something of a cult writer behind the Occupy movement of six years ago — meaning, in his case, a tracker of the invisible stitching around matters of debt and wealth from ancient times.  

He has prophesied at different times a standard 15-hour work week and the dissolution of the US empire.  In the matter of Tory rule in England,  David Graeber has been writing since before the Brexit vote about an “efflorescence of resistance” breaking through — he says — ‘a culture of despair.’


                                                                     Pankaj Mishra at PalFest, 2008

Finally, the Indian-born writer Pankaj Mishra, now London based and widely published in the most respected British and American press, is acutely aware that he embodies a contradiction.  His argument in his contentious new book, Age of Anger, is that the European Enlightenment from the 18th Century, modernity itself and globalization have been critical to his success and, at the same time, responsible for the shilling of so many false promises — prosperity, equality, and security — to the great masses of have-nots. (For more Mishra, listen to our 2012 interview with Pankaj on foreign policy)

Guest List
Naomi Klein
social activist, filmmaker and author of No Is Not Enough
David Graeber
anthropologist, anarchist activist and author of The Utopia of Rules
Pankaj Mishra
essayist, novelist, and author of the Age of Anger

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  • A in Sharon

    I am having trouble where to begin with this round table of self-contradiction and delusion. It is happening to more and more religious people all the time and this show proves many on the Left just haven’t got there yet. I think Christopher gets it but it’s hard to admit when something you want to believe is real is just myth. I hear it in his occasional questions that should be explored more deeply. First it was the question to Klein about New York Times penthouse ads. Later in the talk with Graeber it was his comment about the “chattering class.” Finally, he rightly called out Mishra’s hypocritical critique of the Enlightenment. The biggest example of delusion was Mishra’s assertion that Chinese wealth and decrease in poverty was not based in the global neoliberal order. The billions of Made in China tags and stamps now filling American closets, kitchens and waste dumps are real-world evidence against that fiction. A common sign of failure is when losses are described as wins. Labor lost the election, they didn’t win. All across Europe, the Left is on decline, not growing. The attempt to pin Millenials as those embracing Leftist or collectivist ideals ignores reality. The Millenium generation became the most photographed in human history. They are uniquely the generation with both the most images on paper and digital. They are individuals now able to have their own brand, as evidenced that each of them has their own web site to market it.

    Do not consider me any defender of Corporatism. Corporatism is generalized Authoritarianism. The answer is not Collectivism. Undeniable is that Collectivism/Socialism suppresses individuality, creativity and general welfare. I do not deny many of the challenges our world faces. But, what has the prosperity of our liberal order wrought? Prosperity produces smaller populations. Prosperity produces clean technology. Prosperity produces more food. Prosperity defeated Fascism. If our liberal order is so bad, why do so many walk thousands of miles to get here?

    • I would ask the Utopians how long it will be before the wealth runs out and how then do they plan to replenish it so that it can continually be redistributed?
      Honest question…messy details.
      Didn’t have problem with anything Klein said, but Mishra asserting that the young are or could be free of past ideologies was ridiculous. Being against past ideologies doesn’t qualify as free, because the against-ness means you are bound to those past ideologies.
      Graeber’s assertion that Corbyn won’t be corrupted by his new found power – that remains to be seen. I think Klein was saying putting faith in specific individuals is part of the problem.

      @ A
      Creativity is found at the edge of limitations. If you are suggesting collectivism is a limiting force then an increase in creativity should occur.
      You need only peruse a few Soviet era films by the following to see that is true.
      Andrey Tarkovsky
      Elem Klimov
      Larissa Shepitko
      Mikhail Kalatozov
      Sergei Parajanov

      Especially Parajanov….

      • Potter

        I think it is an honest question, RWP, and a good one. Being somewhat of a Utopian myself I always thought that once the gross imbalance is somewhat lessened, that there would less need for re-distribution though there would still be a smaller need. Personally I like the idea of guaranteed income. This does free people up to create and bring innovation that is not based on greed or let’s say primarily on greed.

        A. -I do also notice the full page ads in the NYTimes for luxury apartments. I don’t recall it was a question but it immediately brought to mind all the luxury goods out there as well. I wondered who buys. Lo and behold I am discovering it’s your local hard working office person or hair stylist or… that saves up for the 4K item with the label to feel good.

        In general I appreciate this discussion, well put together and handled by the incomparable maestro. I am ready for optimism even glimmers of it which we have to talk about. Oh, even give me false optimism. The low and lowering approvals of this Trump presidency and the moving of the rusty wheels of our system are encouraging too.

        • There are two ways to pay for the gap reduction – tax consumption and reduce military growth.
          Maybe a UBI could be phased in for those who lost jobs and later for everyone once the transition is over.

          Maybe I’m a small ‘u’ utopian.

          • Potter

            Yes I agree and small ‘u’…noted.

          • Your welcome – don’t miss Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba or The Cranes are Flying.
            I think Soy Cuba is online.

          • A in Sharon

            Here, I agree. US economic growth is hampered greatly by our military spending. The US military secures the global order more than any other individual state. Western Europe is quite happy with that status quo. It is no accident how they can now afford all those generous social programs. How would they continue to fund them with a meaningful US military withdrawal? Sweden is my favorite example. Pre-1989, the Swedish “total defence system” could mobilize up to one million people to the military alone. This included around 100,000 Home Guard troops that could be mobilized within hours to protect the general mobilization. By 2010, the Swedish Army had two battalions that could be mobilized within 90 days. In their new volunteer system, the Home Guard will be reduced in size to 22,000 soldiers and can take 90 days to fully mobilize. According to the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces the present defence budget will only enable them to fight for a week at most.

        • A in Sharon

          I regard early advocates of Collectivism very differently than the modern variety. We should not dismiss Marx easily because he anticipated and described accurately the ills that Capitalism brings. Also, I excuse decades of experimentation with Communism because they didn’t know any better. We have no excuse. People do not behave as Utopians wish them to behave. Let us consider the basic income. This is not a novel idea. Economists have readily available models which predict accurately what will happen if we were to do this. Demand inflation will skyrocket well before the program even gets off the ground. I see many problems emerging from something like this. How many poor people will be induced to borrow early, at usurious rates, on the promise of future payments? What shall we do when a family’s money runs out? Let us recall the hyperinflation that helped usher in the Fascists in the 1930s.

          • Potter

            We have not tried it. The only way to know is to try it. There will always be problems but the cost benefit has to be assessed.
            On the other hand when we go to war do we look at models or better, the history of outcomes? We should.

  • The Shock Doctrine (2009)
    Directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People)
    Written by Naomi Klein

    This doc tracks very similarly to you-know-whose docs – some of the footage is the same. In the film Klein says she is trying to tell an alternative history.
    Meant by shock doctrine:
    The systematic raiding of the public sphere after a disaster. People are too focused on daily concerns to protect their interests.

    I’m just not sure why this strategy applies only to neoliberals, or neocons for that matter.

    Tom Frank says we will come to a turn (i.e. crisis) again and asks will we make the turn or not.
    Mark Fisher in this 2013 interview says the same thing – we need to be ready:
    (i.e. ready to fill the void during a crisis.)
    It is an indictment of human existence that people only act during a crisis, not an indictment of a political ideology.
    The difference is money – the right has all the money!

  • Robert J. Crawford

    Excellent discussion, as always. Now, I must read Misra’s latest book – you always get me on new books, Chris!

  • Gary Weiner

    Professor Lydon, thank you so much.